Universal Preschool: Everything You Need to Know

In the United States, the Universal Preschool Movement (also called Universal Pre-K or Universal Pre-Kindergarten) aims to ensure every child, irrespective of the child’s grade, skill, or family income, receive access to free, government-funded preschool programs. Thus, these programs aim to guarantee a full-day spot in a classroom with high-quality educators for all preschool-aged children.

For lower-income families, early childhood education can usually be prohibitively expensive. It’s often one of their major annual expenses as well. Yet, the importance of preschool education can’t be denied because it delivers lasting social, educational, and economic benefits. By increasing access to preschool education for all, the Universal Preschool programs can help level the playing field between students from lower-income families and their counterparts from middle and higher-income families.

Universal pre-kindergarten programs can be provided directly by public schools. Else, private and charter programs can offer them under contract with the county. All such programs must include an educational element to address one or more of the following:

·         Numeracy

·         Literacy

·         Motor skills

·         Socio-emotional development, and

·         Cognitive development

The objective of such programs is to prepare students so that they thrive academically once they enter kindergarten. Typically, universal preschool programs are aimed at all 4-year-olds. However, in some cases, they can include 3-year-olds as well.

Children’s brains grow more rapidly from birth till the age of 5 than at any other time. Thus, these are critical years for learning and development. By leveraging these formative years, the universal preschool movement aims to create a lasting impact on students. Research-based studies have found that universal preschool programs increase students’ school readiness skills and significantly decrease their achievement gaps. High-quality universal preschool programs have also been found to produce long-term benefits in school achievement and social adjustment. This is particularly true when early interventions are made for disadvantaged children, who then display higher school achievement, lesser grade retention, a reduced rate of involvement in crime, and a lower need for special education at a later age.

Despite all these benefits, there are people who oppose the universal preschool movement as they maintain that there isn’t adequate evidence to support these benefits. Additionally, they believe that at such an early age, the parents should be the ones in charge of their children’s education. Another criticism of the universal preschool is that its cost, when funded by the state, would raise the common man’s tax burden.

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